Hurricane Irene gains a little strength as it churns toward US East Coast

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The latest update from the National Hurricane Center shows that Hurricane Irene has continued to strengthen. The hurricane center's projected path continues to take the storm further northeast, away from the South Carolina coast.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Hurricane Irene has gotten a bit stronger as it starts lashing the southeastern Bahamas. Irene's winds had strengthened to about 120 mph.

Irene will pass to our east late Friday night and early Saturday morning. It should stay far enough to the east to keep most of the very bad weather off shore.

At this time, we're expecting 5 to 7 foot breakers at the beach, some tidal flooding at high tide. Tides will run around 2 feet above normal at high tide on Friday and Saturday. Flooding in the usual high tide places will be more than usual.

We could experience some outer rain bands from Irene later Friday into Saturday with some gusty winds. There will be a very small chance of winds along the coast or in the outer bands reaching tropical storm force, but it is possible, depending on the final track and distance from the shore.

Hurricane force winds are not expected at this time for our area.

The storm was centered about 250 miles southeast of the Bahamian capital of Nassau, though forecasters say hurricane conditions are already occurring over the southeastern Bahamas. Irene is expected to get stronger over warm ocean waters and could become a Category 4 storm with winds of at least 131 mph by Thursday.

[Track the storm with our interactive hurricane tracker]

The closest approach has it roughly 150 miles to the east and southeast of Charleston. This could still be close enough to get tropical storm conditions along the coastal counties, but it all depends on how big across Irene is once she gets closer.

There is still some chance that Irene could shift to the west or east a bit and that could change the weather the Lowcountry will get as the storm approaches. The most significant threat will be the marine impacts with very large swells, tidal flooding and extensive beach erosion.

The long range track still takes Irene over the Outer Banks of North Carolina on Sunday then on into the New England states on Monday.

The eye is clearly defined now, it has become visible yet again on satellite imagery after a brief disappearing act Tuesday afternoon.

While it is still too early to say where it will make landfall, current analysis looks to be into southeastern North Carolina. However, it is still early and the projected landfall area could be more than 150 miles off. So the SC coast is still at risk.

At its peak, Irene could be a category 4 storm with 125 mph winds.

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